Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Alfonso Viii, the Castilian Episcopate, and the Accession of Rodrigo Jiménez De Rada as the Archbishop of Toledo in 1210

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Alfonso Viii, the Castilian Episcopate, and the Accession of Rodrigo Jiménez De Rada as the Archbishop of Toledo in 1210

Article excerpt

At the beginning of the thirteenth century in Castille, the initiative in the selection of prelates in the Catholic Church remained the purview of the crown. The processes developed in the canon law of the Church over the preceding two centuries constrained the operation of royal control but could seldom entirely frustrate it. The difficulties of communication and travel in the premodern age gave a usually insuperable advantage to local power. Nevertheless, local political realities shaped the royal advantage, and papal approbation and cooperation often was useful to offset them.

Keywords: Alfonso VIII of Leon-Castile, Archbishopric of Toledo; Jimenez de Rada, Rodrigo; Las Navas de Tolosa

Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada (c. 1170-1247 AD) was incontestably the greatest churchman of Iberia in the thirteenth century. For thirtyseven years he was the archbishop of Toledo, which had been for 125 years the chief see of the emerging kingdom of León-Castile, in one of the most brilliant periods of its history. As archbishop of Toledo, he also was primate of Iberia and thus stood at the apex of its ecclesiastical power structure from Braga in Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, and to Tarragona in Aragón-Catalonia. Inevitably, therefore, he was deeply involved in the politics of the Roman papacy Rodrigo was prominent at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, and in fact he died in 1247 while returning from a visit to the papal court at Lyons. As archbishop of Toledo, he was the primary administrator of that church's extensive and growing religious, property, and legal rights within the growing boundaries of the kingdom of Castile.

At the same time, the archbishop was always the courtier. He played a prominent role during the latter part of the reign of Alfonso VIII (1158-1214), served in the regency during the reign of the unfortunate Enrique I (1214-17), and remained an important figure during the reign of Fernando III (1217-52). He was, by turns, prelate, diplomat, and chancellor of the realm, as well as warrior, present at the great battle of Las Navas deTolosa in 1212, which put a definitive end to the 500-year-old Muslim predominance in the Iberian peninsula. Arguably, he also was its greatest Latin historian and among its greatest men of Latin letters. Despite a fairly active literature on his various activities, a comprehensive and modern biography of that archbishop and primate continues to be desirable.1 A great many things about Rodrigo lack satisfactory explication, but the circumstances surrounding his accession will be the focus here.

Why was this young, well-born cleric and gentleman from the northern kingdom of Navarre suddenly promoted to the primatial see of Iberia in 1210? Granted, his family was not without influence, but it was not on par with the great contemporary lineages of the Castilian Castros and the Laras or even the border lineage of the Haros. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the family of Rodrigo was still chiefly valuable to the crown of Castile for its influence in Navarre and in the northeastern borderlands of Castile that abutted it (see figure 1). His grandfather was Jimeno Pérez de Rada, an influential noble of Navarre, and his mother, Eva de Finojosa, was related to its royal house. His uncle was Martín López de Finojosa, bishop of Sigüenza in Castile (1186-1192) and subsequently Cistercian abbot of the important and strategically sited monastery of Santa María de la Huerta on the Castilian northeastern frontier until his death in 1213. Rodrigo de Verdejo, cousin of the future archbishop of Toledo and nephew of Martin, succeeded his uncle as bishop in Sigüenza (1192-1221).

Despite his distinguished connections and ability to communicate with other churchmen of the realm via his proficiency in Latin, Rodrigo Jiménez remained a foreigner, given the social and political dynamic of the age. He was a Navarrese, not a Castilian, and in Iberia that simple distinction has very real resonances even in the present day. …

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